Two Texas Tech students, Samantha* and John*, dated for eight months before he laid his hands on her in an abusive way.
She decided to tell her story, but wanted to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.
They were not officially together the first time he hit her, according to Samantha. She said it was because John saw her get a ride home from a guy friend after being at a bar on Broadway Street. She had then fallen asleep, with her front door unlocked.
“So he comes in my room in the middle of the night while I’m asleep in my bed, passed out drunk,” Samantha said. “He starts screaming at me, and he’s choking me. He puts a pillow over my head trying to suffocate me and throws me on the ground.”
She does not believe he was trying to kill her, but she was terrified.
“He was screaming that he loved me but he hated me,” she said.
One in three women and one in four men have been victims of some kind of physical violence by an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 are most commonly abused by an intimate partner.
More than 10 million women and men are estimated to be abused in the United States every year. According to a census conducted by the National Network to End Domestic violence, 4,876 victims of domestic violence were served and 1,517 hotline calls were answered in Texas in a single day.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior used to establish control over another person using fear, intimidation and often violence.
Samantha’s story exemplifies most cases that go unreported.
Daniel Unger is an example of a domestic abuser who was caught. He is currently serving a term in Taylor County after abusing his ex-girlfriend, South Plains College student Casey Arend, for years.
He fathered two of her children and has seven felony assault charges against him, according to Taylor County court records. Arend said the abuse she suffered was not obvious because Unger was careful about where he left bruises on her.
“He never balled up his fist and punched me,” Arend said. “And he told me, ‘It is not abuse until I punch you.'”
She said one of his favorite things to do was put his hand over her mouth until she passed out. She had multiple ribs broken from being kicked with his steel-toe boots.
When people asked her why she would not leave him, the only answer she could give was that she loved him. After hurting her, he would shower her with affection.
“That’s what I would live for,” Arend said. “I could take the beating if I could get that part of him.”
Dana Weiser, an assistant professor in human development and family studies, said extremes are common in abusive relationships.
“When it’s good, it’s fantastic; there’s a lot of passion and love,” Weiser said.
She said abuse usually starts in an emotional way, with insults and extreme jealousy.
“It’s when that jealousy starts impacting what you can wear, who you can hang out with, where you can go—a lot of these things are really subtle,” she said. “The messages that young women get in our society is that these actions are protective, when really the actions are controlling.”
Abuse can happen to anyone no matter the gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or socioeconomic status, Weiser said.
“Lots of really, really good people are abused,” she said. “And it doesn’t make you bad, it doesn’t make you someone who has bad judgment. It means you were in a bad situation.”
Samantha remembers the insults John used against her.
“He’ll say ‘You’re just a whore, you’re just a slut,’ which I know I’m not, but nobody ever really wants to hear that,” she said. “He’ll just try to put me down any way he can.”
She never thought she would be a victim of abuse because she had always been a confident and happy person.
“I loved myself,” Samantha said. “I never realized—until I was so far deep into it and just putting up with it—I felt inferior,” Samantha said.
When her friends found out, they wanted to help her realize that what she was going through was not right.
“They were like ‘Do you hear yourself? You’re blaming yourself, this is textbook abuse,’ so they helped me realize, ‘Oh my god, you’re right. That’s crazy, it’s not my fault’—which sounds so stupid, I know,” she said.
Samantha broke up with John and tried to move on. She was used to him sleeping in her room with her, so she tried to avoid being in the room.
“I couldn’t sleep in my bed,” she said. “I never wanted to be in my room unless I was changing or showering. Other than that I slept with my roommate on the couch or in her bed.”
Her roommate, Ashley*, remembers trying to understand the relationship.
“I think he made her so insecure about herself, and I think she thought she had to stay with him because if not, who knew what else he was going to do,” Ashley said.
She said she would try to encourage Samantha to turn him in, but she knew she was not able to understand the situation from Samantha’s perspective.
“It was very hard because I knew that she deserved better, and I wanted her to be able to stick up for herself and just be done with him,” Ashley said.
Samantha said she went a few months without talking to John, but she still was not happy.
“I kinda found myself in this bad place, where all I wanted to do was get drunk all the time,” she said. “That was my priority to deal with it.”
When John sent her a long apology message over social media, she replied.
“I truly could feel the hurt for him because it was the same kind of hurt I was feeling,” Samantha said.
After they got back together, she found herself in a cycle of violent abuse.
“He’ll just like hold me hostage,” Samantha said. “It’s just his sick little games he f***ing plays. And then he just wants to tell me how sorry he is and hold me and go to bed.”
Even though they are now broken up, she still runs into him occasionally.
“It’s a never-ending cycle of stages ’cause you don’t know how to act,” she said. “You stay away from each other as long as you can, but just eventually, it’s too small of a town. I honestly just wish I never met him. I really do. And I feel bad for any girl in the future who gets involved.”
Although she will miss Lubbock and her friends, Samantha looks forward to graduating and getting away from John for good. She could never bring herself to press charges against him and fears she would not be successful if she did.
“If nothing happened to him, it would be even worse,” she said. “I would look stupid, he would tell everyone, he would shame me, everyone would know.”
She said the support of her friends is helping her heal.
“They tell me, ‘At the end of the day, you’re gonna do what you’re gonna do, but please love yourself more than that,'” Samantha said. “That’s the best advice they give me, so I’m working on that.”
Arend still deals with the effects of her abusive relationship.
“It’s been over a year and I still flinch when someone moves too fast, I still wait for the ugly names… I am so busy waiting on the worst to enjoy the good in my life now,” she posted on her Instagram account.
Her children, 4-year-old Lauren and 2-year-old Ashton, are some of the good things in her life.
“Your love for your children exceeds anything you could ever imagine,” Arend said, “but there are times when I look at them and I see him in them. I can’t say I’d ever hate them, but in that moment, I can’t even look at them.”
She said it is hard to explain to them that their father is in jail, but her older daughter, Lauren, understands it is like a timeout, to encourage him to think about what he has done.
“I knew this isn’t right, this isn’t how someone is supposed to treat me, but he told me he did it because he loved me,” Arend said.
Weiser said it is hard to understand that most violent relationships are characterized by love.
“A lot of times these abusers genuinely do love their partners,” she said. “They just haven’t learned about healthy relationships and express their emotions in a deeply unhealthy manner.”
Weiser recommends that anyone in an abusive relationship seek help.
“The first step is to get help,” she said. “Leaving is an important goal, but it needs to be done when the person is ready, when they have resources in place and when they can do it as safely as possible.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
*Names changed for privacy